Will Pent Up Demand Deliver F&B?

The food and beverage industry is at the receiving end of the fear of contact, but industry honchos who pow-wowed on the final day of the Indian Hospitality Awards and Summit, were not all pessimistic.

When a pandemic holds an economy to ransom, very few people will eat out, especially with the fear of contagion haunting potential revelers. The general sentiment will be to avoid going to public places like bars and eateries. The food and beverages (F&B) sector, thus, may be among the last in the economy to pick up pace even when the situation begins to normalise.

The only hope for players in the food and beverage industry, which is the second highest employer of human capital in India, is a pent-up demand. Deliverance may come in the way of a splurge by consumers once the lockdown is behind us. 

At the panel discussion organised by BW Hotelier on the final day of the Indian Hospitality Awards and Summit, industry experts discussed the malaise that prevailed in the industry and the way forward. Among the panelists for the session were Anurag Katriar, President, NRAI and Managing Director, Degustibus Hospitality, Riyaaz Amlani, CEO and Managing Director, Impresario Handmade Restaurants, Manish Mehrotra, Corporate Chef, Indian Accent Restaurants, Zorawar Kalra, Founder and Managing Director, Massive Restaurants Pvt. Ltd. and Ashish Dev Kapur, Founder and   Director, Moods Hospitality Pvt. Ltd.Manu Chandra, Chief Partner, Olive Group of Restaurants, moderated the panel discussion. 

In his opening comments, Anurag Katriar of Degustibus Hospitality, lamented that while no single authority or ministry looks after the interests of the hospitality industry, it gets governed by everyone. Riyaaz Amlani of Impresario Handmade Restaurants corroborated the view. “The industry has an image problem and the more we have been trying to approach the government, we have seen a deep-seated mistrust,” he said, adding, “When CREDAI and Hoteliers went to the government, their demands were not taken seriously. There is a disparity between the hospitality industry and the others.” 

Comparing the scenario in London with that in India, Manish Mehrotra, Indian Accent Restaurants said, “Everything came to an absolute zero. For London, we had to shut the operation completely and the landlord was not ready to help us out in any way and we were in one of the most expensive areas in London where the rentals were crazy. In India, we still managed because of our past savings.” 

Katriar joined in with his experience with landlords and pointed out that most had been supportive. He said the biggest challenge was a change in mindset. “The pre pandemic terms do not hold any relevance during these times and it has to be a brand new engagement,” he said. 

Zorawar Kalra, of Massive Restaurants, elaborated the biggest fear the industry battled   at the moment was that of going out. “There is a perception that bars and restaurants are hot beds (of the virus) and have a super spread status. It is very important for us to get over this fear. Food is the largest form of entertainment in India and is 40 times larger than Bollywood.” Amlani preferred to stay pessimistic. He said in the best-case scenario, the industry would get about 35 per cent of the business back over the next nine months. 

When asked about his take on the recent surge in deliveries, Ashish Dev Kapur of Moods Hospitality Pvt. Ltd. said, “Predominantly the country was in a dine-in business and delivery was a small part, but post-Covid, things will change and delivery might be on the uptick. Delivery has more to do with keeping the brand alive and bringing innovation to the table. They cannot replace dine-in as we are all in the experience business.” Mehrotra pointed out that earnings of waiters which used to be Rs 32,000 as service charge and tips normally, had gone to zero, which had definitely impacted their livelihood. 

The session proved to be not just informative but drew out useful insights from the world of F&B. The overriding message that emanated from it was that industry stakeholders would need to reimagine themselves to prepare for a post pandemic world.


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